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Rising vehicle numbers: what options do we have?

Premise: As vehicle numbers continue to grow, leading to increasing congestion particularly in the bigger towns and cities, the country’s only recourse is to adopt and implement a highly integrated, efficient and sustainable urban public transport system.

With increasing economic prosperity, vehicle import figures will continue to grow. In fact, even during import ban between 2012 and 2013, close to 500 vehicles were imported. Tax revision and ban lift in 2014 saw dramatic increase in the number of vehicles: from 69,602 in 2014 to 75,190 the following year. The import figure further increased to 84,297 in 2016 and 92,008 in 2017. Last year, the number of vehicles in the country grew to 100,544, a 9.28 percent rise from the previous year.

It is important to note that increasing vehicle numbers lead to more accidents and unnecessary casualties. Statistically, 1,360 vehicle accidents were reported last year, 57.77 percent increase from 2017. Deaths and injuries due to vehicle accident rose by 29.8 percent and 76.59 percent respectively, especially in the bigger population centres.

In the coming years, with rapid urbanisation, these challenges will increase by many folds if actions are not taken urgently. We may have policies and strategies to update structural plans based on population and vehicle ownership forecasts, but sitting on them is what we cannot afford. While expansion of the national highways and improvement of farm roads are being laced pretty well alongside the nation’s planned budgets, improvement of traffic engineering and development of public transport and management system in the urban centres have been negligible.

It is important to recognise that economic and generational demands are upon us. If we are to aspire for safe, reliable, affordable, convenient, cost-effective, and environment-friendly transport system by 2040, meandering about will be very expensive.

Besides improving day-to-day convenience for people, accessible, efficient and affordable urban transport system has the potential to improve productivity, reduce transaction costs and has positive impact on the economy. Because restrictions on vehicle ownership and use in urban areas will be challenging, development of integrated, efficient and sustainable public transport system cannot wait. We just do not have any other option.

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